SYDNEY • Australia will help fund and build an undersea communications cable to the Solomon Islands, after the Pacific nation was convinced to drop a contract with Chinese company Huawei.
"As we step up our engagement in the Pacific, we are working as partners with Solomon Islands more closely than ever to ensure stability, security and prosperity in the region," Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said yesterday after meeting Solomon Islands Prime Minister Rick Houenipwela in Canberra.
Australia will also jointly fund a domestic telecommunication cable network linking remote provinces in the Solomons to the capital Honiara.
The impoverished country and Huawei inked a deal in late 2016 to construct the fibre-optic cable from Australia to Honiara to improve its often unreliable internet and phone services. But Mr Houenipwela said last week there had been a change of heart following "some concerns raised with us by Australia", without elaborating.
The move comes with Australia refocusing its foreign aid programmes to win hearts and minds in the island nations of the Pacific, as China flexes its muscle in the region. It pledged more than A$1.3 billion (S$1.32 billion) in its national budget last month to fund projects such as the communications cable, which will also link-up with Papua New Guinea.
Canberra and other regional capitals have become increasingly alarmed at Beijing's push into the Pacific through "soft diplomacy".
Without giving details, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said that Australia's alternative offer was cheaper and technically superior.
Huawei was blocked from bidding for contracts on Australia's national broadband project in 2012, reportedly due to cyber-security concerns. The firm has long disputed claims of any links to the Chinese government.